Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >

kevin h's Profile

Title Last Reply


Yeah, I think the only option that's *really* snob-worthy here would be Mori.

As for n/naka, I've heard that Chef Nakayama is quite flexible with her menu, and I know she has considerable facility with non-fish ingredients, so it might be an option.

Mar 07, 2012
kevin h in Los Angeles Area


It's been a while Nami! Regarding Mori, yes, the non-sushi items can indeed be ordered a la carte.

Other options that haven't been mentioned might include Aburiya Toranoko, n/naka, and Nozomi.

Mar 06, 2012
kevin h in Los Angeles Area


It was indeed the entire menu at 50 courses. Not an easy feat mind you, even with a team of four hungry eaters! Here are my favorite courses from each section of the menu:

1: papa rellena, jalea mixta, choritos, chicharron de pollo
2: albacore, scallops, chicken, ceviche mixto, ceviche crocante, oysters a la chalaca
3: pollo, papa a la huancaina, black cod, santa barbara prawns, alitas de pollo, corazon
4: arroz con erizo, seco de pato, arroz chaufa de mariscos, chicharron de costillas
5: lemon tart, churros

Direct link:

Jul 01, 2011
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

One Dinner if Cost is no object in L.A.

Muse at The Montage closed long ago. It has since been replaced by Scarpetta, which isn't a bad choice if you're feeling Italian. See a report here:

225 N Canon Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Jun 19, 2011
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

Report: Las Vegas with Kids and In-laws (including a meal at é by José Andrés)

Bar Charlie was one of my favorites as well. I was sad to see it go. However, it really wasn't necessary to spend $400pp to have a good time there. Here was a very good experience at half the cost:

That being said, 4 of the 8 people during my seating at é cancelled as well, so I certainly understand the holding of CC numbers.

Mar 01, 2011
kevin h in Las Vegas

My Urasawa Report

The crab you speak of is the Kani Miso Korayaki, easily the best crab dish that I've ever tasted, and also one of the best dishes overall that I've eaten.

Feb 28, 2011
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

Report: Las Vegas with Kids and In-laws (including a meal at é by José Andrés)

Thanks for the linkage Chris. Regarding é, were you even allowed to take photos? I've heard that there's now a photography ban in place.

Feb 28, 2011
kevin h in Las Vegas

é by José Andrés

On 1/6, I sent an email to the above address and received the following response about three hours later: "Thank you for your interest in é by José Andrés. We will be in touch shortly to discuss your request."

Then, two days later, Jaleo GM Michael Ploetz confirmed my reservation. However, before I sent the email, I also called Jaleo, and had the hostess leave a message for Anthony, who heads up operations at é.

Jan 23, 2011
kevin h in Las Vegas

Red O Opening Night Report

Thanks for the report back. I love how you had Bayless choose for you--perhaps they should consider a tasting menu option? I must get the goat cheese tamale next time (been hearing good things about it) as well as the carne asada (which I wanted to try).

Jun 01, 2010
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

Red O Opening Night Report

Gah--forgot to check this thread again. What did you end up having?

May 30, 2010
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

Red O Opening Night Report

I apologize; I didn't get to see your question in time. What did you end up ordering, and how did you like it?

May 29, 2010
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

Red O Opening Night Report

Well stated. For not having an ownership interest in the restaurant, he certainly does have his name plastered everywhere! He's got no money at risk, only his reputation.

May 28, 2010
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

Red O Opening Night Report

Lol. I had an early morning meeting Thursday, so I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get the post out in time. Glad you appreciated the effort!

May 28, 2010
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

Red O Opening Night Report

Thanks! Actually, it wasn't that bad in terms of cost. Remember, everything was split amongst four people. ;)

May 28, 2010
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

Red O Opening Night Report

"Mexican Cuisine by Rick Bayless"

Exciting words, these. However, it must be noted that Rick Bayless won't be cooking at Red O on a regular basis, nor does he have an ownership interest in the business. The actual owners are the dynamic duo of Mike Dobson and Rick Teasta, the founders of Santa Ana-based oil changery EZ Lube. The two have been partners for over two decades, but were best buddies before that, first meeting while working as doormen at the Red Onion in Redondo Beach. Red O, thus, pays homage to that original restaurant.

Nevertheless, Bayless is responsible for developing the menu, and also took charge of teaching the staff, many of whom were brought to Chicago to train. Running the kitchens on a day-to-day basis, thus, is the realm of Executive Chef Michael Brown (of Patina Group and Wolfgang Puck Catering).

The menu at Red O is rather vast, and features a variety of more traditional Mexican fare, as well as a number of "Cal-Mex" dishes. We tried to sample dishes from all over the menu:

Classic Guacamole [$9.00] | freshly made, chunky, with warm chips & salsa
The guac was a must-order item, and indeed, it did not disappoint. I loved the dip's onion-y tang and tartish citrus finish, all intermixed with the lush creaminess of avocado. Overall, a very good guacamole.

Grilled Mazatlan Blue Shrimp Tostaditas [$10.00] | roasted garlic mojo, avocado with fresh jícama "chips"
This was a surprisingly complex, balanced dish with rich flavors of blue shrimp, perked up by a bit of bite courtesy of the garlic. The crisp, refreshing counterpoint imparted by the jicama was much appreciated.

Alaskan Halibut Ceviche [$12.50] | cilantro-serrano "chimichurri", cucumber, avocado
Here was a substantial ceviche, with the luxuriousness of the avocado beautifully moderating the considerable heft of the halibut, while the "chimichurri" added pricks of heat to the palate. Unfortunately, the flavors here were a bit overshadowed by the other, more aggressive courses served at the same time.

Woodland Mushrooms Ceviche [$10.00] | grilled knob onion, sun-dried tomato, serrano chile
You don't see many mushrooms ceviches around, but this dish turned out to be one of my favorites of the night. I loved the interplay of the earthy mushrooms with the sweet and vegetal notes of its various accoutrements, and how the heat of the serrano built up so eloquently on the long, lingering finish.

Shredded Creekstone Beef Short Rib Sopes [$9.00] | roasted tomato-green chile sauce
As expected, the beef itself was wonderfully tender, with rich, dark, hearty flavors, flavors which were augmented even further by the application of cheese. I really enjoyed the subtle smokiness imparted by the roasted tomato-chili dressing, but my favorite part was how the stout cylinders of corn masa so deftly tempered the meat's substantial gravity.

Gleason Ranch Pork Belly Sopes [$8.00] | black beans, salsa negra, sesame
It was interesting to compare these sopes with the preceding short rib versions. The flavors were actually noticeably more in-your-face, a smoky-sweet blast of salsa negra that really helped in cutting the fattiness of the pork belly. And again, I absolutely adored the little bites of masa.

Slow-Cooked Sonoma Duck Taquitos [$9.00] | tomato-árbol chile sauce, arugula
I found the duck here immensely flavorful actually, and quite liked how it played with the subtly spicy sauce. The arugula, meanwhile, contributed a slightly astringent contrast, but wasn't absolutely necessary for me. Nevertheless, a very enjoyable dish.

Chicken Tamale [$8.00] | herby Oaxacan yellow mole, banana leaf
Here, what struck me first was the great exchange of flavors between the delightfully piquant mole, tasty chicken, and tangy onion. Arguably the best part of the course, though, was the corn masa, which had a wonderfully profound taste that complemented the chicken perfectly. Easily one of the best tamales I've ever had.

Homemade Chorizo Sausage Queso Fundido [$8.50] | roasted poblano chiles
Cheese and chorizo, how can you go wrong? We're talking about enchantingly mild, melted Vella Sonoma Jack, paired with the subtly smoky, vegetal zest of peppers, all with the overarching saltiness and spice imparted by the chorizo. Superb with the included tortillas.

Sonoma County Lamb in Chile Colorado Cazuela for Soft Tacos [$13.50] | ancho & guajillo chiles, roasted garlic, cumin, black beans
A lovely lamb dish, with heavy, rich, "lamb-y" flavors aptly accompanied by a sweet-smoky-spicy ancho-guajillo sauce and an earthy entourage of black beans. This was delicious but a bit overpowering when eaten alone--tortillas are a must.

Achiote-Marinated Catfish Tacos al Carbon [$15.50] | roasted poblano rajas, bacon-flavored charro beans, grilled knob onions, salsas
I first tried some of the catfish alone, and found it smoky, yet subtle and delicate, with a great texture. I then grabbed a tortilla, applied the various trappings, and chowed down. The resultant amalgamation was tasty enough, but I did feel that the sapor of the catfish was a bit lost in the fray--go easy on the accessories.

Pollo en Mole Poblano [$22.00] | grilled Mary's young chicken, homemade mole poblano, black beans, watercress salad
Here, we were served two surprisingly large portions of chicken, which I found quite tender--albeit a touch dry--with a very pure, yet very mild flavor. It was a canvas on which the mole could really sing. The sauce itself, interestingly enough, was by far the most nuanced version I've tasted. It had the trademark flavors of sweet, smoky, and spicy, but the savor was far more integrated with the chicken than I'd imagined it would be--so complex, layered, confident.

Cochinita Pibil [$26.00] | tortilla-fed Gleason Ranch suckling pig, achiote-marinated & slow-cooked in banana leaves, black beans, pickled red onions, roasted habanero salsa
I'm a huge fan of Rivera's "Maya puerco pibil" dish, so I just had to get Red O's version. I still like Rivera's version better, which I find more succulent, though this, nonetheless, was a valiant effort. The meat was suitably tender, yet not without a bit of bite, which I appreciated. I quite enjoyed the pig's rich, deep flavors, perked up by a bit of achiote and countered by the application of arugula.

Tinga Poblana [$22.00] | braised Gleason Ranch pork shoulder & belly, homemade chorizo, roasted tomatoes, smoked chipotle, Yukon gold potatoes, avocado, queso fresco
I actually preferred the tinga preparation of pork, which really represented a great mix of lean and fat meat, with a lovely char and great lingering spice. I was especially fond of the potatoes, which grounded and tempered the dish. One of the highlights of the meal for me.

We were all surprisingly full by this point, but how could we pass up the sweet stuff?

Creamy Goat Cheese Cheesecake [$8.00] | caramel corn, Mexican "root beer" sauce
I'm generally a fan of cheesecake, and this was no exception. What was fascinating here was the sharp flavor of the goat cheese, which almost added a savory tinge to the dish, an element that played very well with the caramel corn.

Veracruz-Style Buñuelos [$8.00] | with salted caramel ice cream, warm Kahlúa chocolate sauce
This was my favorite of the dessert trio. The buñuelos--sort of like flattened fritters of fried dough--had a great, addictive, cinnamon-y flavor to them. They easily stood by themselves, but the included caramel ice cream was a very apt, though somewhat expected, accoutrement.

Golden and Crispy Empenadas [$8.00] | with wild strawberries & mango, mojito sorbet
Empanadas are usually savory, but in Mexico, sweet versions are common as well. The light, refreshing fruit went well enough with the flaky pastry, but the star of the show here was clearly that mojito sorbet, which really did a tremendous job in conveying the essence of the cocktail.

Mexican food in the United States has come a long way since Bayless began his culinary career--it's no longer simply about burritos, cheese on everything, nachos, iceberg lettuce, and Taco Bell. Old habits die hard, however, and I applaud Bayless and his contemporaries for elevating the status of the cuisine, giving it the respect that it rightfully deserves. In any case, for me, Red O is a welcomed addition to the Southland's restaurant landscape, and, I suspect, will do just fine.

Full review with photos:

Patina Group
291 W Cerritos Ave, Anaheim, CA 92805

Red Onion
736 Silver Spur Rd, Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274

May 27, 2010
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

The First Dinner Service at the New Bastide

I'm just a bit biased against espresso and coffee in general, so don't be too put off my commentary. BTW, it looks like you posted on CH way back in 2007. ;)

Feb 24, 2010
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

The First Dinner Service at the New Bastide

Sigh. I wish I'd gotten on the Bastide bandwagon earlier. I've only been to Walter's incarnation!

Feb 12, 2010
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

The First Dinner Service at the New Bastide

The scallop was worth it to me, but I'd say that there are probably better options if you have to choose (e.g. the yellowtail).

As for dessert, my favorite was probably the apple tart. ;)

Feb 12, 2010
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

The First Dinner Service at the New Bastide

We started at 10:15. The restaurant was near empty. The staff wanted to go home. ;)

Feb 12, 2010
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

The First Dinner Service at the New Bastide

The moniker Bastide, referring to a Provençal country manor, may recall images of bucolic tranquility, but Joe Pytka's seminal Los Angeles eatery of the same name has been anything but. After opening in 2002, the restaurant has seen numerous incarnations of itself, seemingly at the whim of its notoriously mercurial benefactor. Most recently, Pytka closed shop in late 2008, only to reopen (lunch only, tonight was the first dinner service) a year later on December 15, 2009, tacking on a bookstore in the process. Oh Bastide, how do we love thee? Let us count the chefs: Alain Giraud (2000-2004), Ludovic Lefebvre (2004-2006), Walter Manzke (2007-2008), Paul Shoemaker (2008), Joseph Mahon (2009-"Pytka's next whim").

The new menu's short, focused, sensibly-priced. We were told that tasting menus are available with advance notice, but we decided to make our own, ordering one of everything on the carte:

The meal got off to a strong start. I loved the interaction here between the simultaneously sweet, briny shrimp and the vegetal tang of the watercress, present here in an almost paste-like form. At the same time, I really appreciated how the olive added a palpable weight on the finish, while the lemon gave things a bright acidity.

Eating this, I couldn't help but compare the tart to a quiche Florentine! The combination of spinach, cream, and buttery crust was classic, but also immensely effective. Taking things further, the pancetta added a fantastic, salty gravity to the dish, countered by the frisée.

The fish itself was delightfully savory, even smoky, with a perfect texture. As good as the yellowtail was on its own, having it with the various vegetables was phenomenal, with the greens providing a fitting foil to the weightiness of the hamachi. I don't hesitate in calling this one of the best preparations of yellowtail sashimi I've ever had.

Fantastic texture on the squid here--I was instantly reminded of the wonderful calamari that I'd had recently over at Julian Serrano. I really enjoyed the squid's faultless combination of sweet and briny flavors, and how the contrasting essences of the beans and cucumber superbly complemented the cephalopod.

The top of this scallop, in all its Bloomin' Onion-esque glory, was for more than just show. Rather, it resulted in a wondrous textural progression: soft and tender on the bottom, crisp and firm up top. Taste-wise, the use of crab augmented and emboldened the bivalve's natural brininess, while the pungency of the basil formed an effective temper to the sweetness imparted by the tomato.

Think of this as your traditional French onion soup, but better. We're talking about hearty, earthy, rustic, dark, incredibly savory flavors, intermixed with the marked sweetness of caramelized onion. Delicious.

Our first of four salads was your prototypical frisée, done up with fried chicken. The chicken itself was suitably tender and succulent, imbued with a subtly sweet-spicy character to boot. The salad, a great interplay of creamy egg, salty bacon, and light frisée, was similarly delectable on its own. However, I'm not sure if I was quite sold on the pairing of the two elements (but the dish was pretty damn good in any case).

Here, I loved the juicy, refreshing crispness and brightness of the salad. The relationship of the bitter endive with the sweet fruit was key, while the Cabrales added a pleasantly pungent gravity to things.

I'm somewhat of an asparagus slut, so I was looking forward to this one. The asparagus alone was deftly done, and the interaction between the astringent vegetable and the sweet nuttiness of the almonds really worked for me. I certainly didn't mind the tartness of the aioli, either.

Some very classic flavor profiles at play here. I quite liked the soft, buttery complexion of the lettuce leaves, and how the Bibb formed a base on which the salty feta and wonderfully tangy vinaigrette could shine.

This really reminded me of a similar "Riso di Valpolicella" I'd had recently at Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder. Imagine cheesy, savory rice, imbued with just a hint of red wine flair, all augmented by the earthy weight of mushrooms. Tasty, but a bit too forward for me.

The salmon turned out to be out of my favorites of the meal. I positively adored its fantastically rare, tender consistency (reminding me of a salmon that I'd had at Le Bernardin) and brazenly briny flavor. And the peas? A perfect accoutrement.

Much to my surprise, the cod was actually very light, delicate even, in flavor. Thus, the mussels, with their marked brininess, were instrumental in adding depth and power to the dish. I also appreciated the orzo pasta here, but wasn't so much of a fan of the carrots, which I found overly sweet.

Our first meat course was this imposing-looking lamb leg. As expected for a braised preparation, the meat was falling-off-the-bone tender (I'm not sure if I needed to chew), bursting with rich, dark, fatty, flavors. The beans and arugula, meanwhile, did an admirable job in trying to temper the power of the lamb.

Next was a tender, silky, straightforward portion of chicken, with an enchantingly savory skin. What did it for me with this dish was the interplay between the bird and the astringent, bitter Brussels sprouts. However, I wasn't a huge fan of the celeriac purée, which I found distracting.

We closed with perhaps the quintessential bistro dish. Taken alone, the steak reminded me of a more tender version of the meat that I'd had at Church & State. What set this dish apart, though, was the anchovy butter, which added an intense, fishy saltiness to the beef that I rather enjoyed (not everyone at the table did, however). Frites, meanwhile, were first-rate.

Desserts come courtesy of Pastry Chef Rommel De Leon, most recently the Pastry Sous Chef at Rivera:

I'm not a huge fan of coffee in general, so I wasn't expecting much here. Fortunately, the notes of espresso in this dish weren't overwhelming at all. The chocolate ice cream wasn't particularly original, but was effectual nevertheless.

In terms of taste, the flan was fairly tame, subtle. The crux, thus, was the tartness imparted by the dehydrated fruit (which also added a nice crunchiness), and the wonderful spice provided by the anise.

Here, it was all about the mild, soft, subtly sour sorbet, and its relation with the sweet, juicy, tantalizingly tart mango. The bits of fruit "caviar," meanwhile, mixed things up texturally.

Our final dish of the night was a classic apple tart. It was a simple, but worthwhile dessert, with the slight spice of the apples playing beautifully with the moderating ice milk. One of my dining companions, a self-professed apple tart fiend, even gave his eager nod of approval.

And there we have it. The new Bastide. Gone are the esoteric eccentricities of meals past, replaced with "accessible," top-notch brasserie-inspired food. On one hand, I miss the vagary, the conceit, the no-holds-barred approach of yesteryear, but at the same time, I appreciate, and understand, what Mahon's doing--this is much more than mere "bistro" fare. Bastide is off to an amazingly strong start: every dish was good, many were great. Right here, right now, this just feels right. Welcome back Bastide--don't leave us again.

Full review with photos:

Feb 11, 2010
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

Opening Night at the New Hatfield's

On August 8, 2009, Hatfield's served up its last Croque Madame. Fortunately for us Angelinos, the shutter was only temporary. Indeed, this bastion of contemporary Cal/French cuisine was merely relocating to a new address: 6703 Melrose, the site previously occupied by Tim and Liza Goodell's pan-Asian eatery Red Pearl Kitchen. The rationale behind the move was that the Hatfields simply wanted a bigger space, in order to take the restaurant to the next step, with a larger menu, lunch and dinner, seven days a week--in other words, the new spot is designed to be permanent. The transition was initially slated to be completed by November 2009, but as usual, the schedule slipped, and a new opening date of February 1st was announced in January. Given my positive experience at the old restaurant, it was a foregone conclusion that I would give the new Hatfield's a whirl, opening night, of course.

Hatfield's was arguably best known for its seven-course, tandem tasting menus. Unfortunately, that format wasn't quite ready yet, so we were given a choice between à la carte and four-course Seasonal Prix-Fixe options; we went with the latter, at $58 per person (adding on supplements, naturally). More exciting perhaps is the new beverage program, designed by new GM-cum-sommelier/mixologist Peter Birmingham (of Pourtal fame). There is, naturally, a strong wine list, but what piqued my interest was the cocktail selection, featuring both classic and modern libations. And apparently, with the new bar comes a separate bar menu--oh my!

Here's what we had:

Frisée and Smoked Trout Salad [$12.00] | Apple, avocado, warm fingerling potatoes in grainy mustard butter
All our supplemental courses came out at once, and first up was this frisée salad. The actual bits of trout were somewhat difficult to pick out, but the fish's smoky, briny essence was apparent in spades. I quite enjoyed the unabashed saltiness at play here, perked up by the salad's tangy dressing, as well as the fantastic moderating effect of the potato. The tuber also added an interesting textural element, and I likewise appreciated the crisp sweetness of the apple.

Agnolotti [$9.00] | Mustard greens and ricotta agnolotti, parsnip, cinnamon banyuls
The agnolotti looked appealing on the menu, but wasn't nearly as successful as I'd hoped for. Though texturally, the pasta was almost spot on, the dish was overwhelmed by the intense spicy-sweet sapor of the cinnamon banyuls. The ricotta was almost completely masked, and was only slightly apparent on the finish.

Beet Cured Japanese Fluke [$11.00] | Herbed yogurt, pickled shallots, buckwheat crisps
How do you make fluke look like tuna? Give it a beet bath! Besides adding a dash of amaranth to the fish, the beet also contributed a very soft sweetness that went quite well with the fluke's naturally delicate flavor. I appreciated the fish's soft, supple consistency, and the great crunchiness provided by the buckwheat.

Warm Cuttlefish Salad [$10.00] | Maitake mushrooms, sunchoke purée, baby arugula, artichoke chips
Here we have a dish that I had on my last Hatfield's visit. On that occasion, I wrote that "the cuttlefish itself could've been a bit more apparent." Fortunately, the subtle brine of the cephalopod was indeed much more conspicuous this time around, and I quite liked its interaction with the earthy gravity of the maitakes.

1a: Charred Japanese Mackerel | Oven dried pineapple, avocado, fried shallots, nori infused salsa verde
The fishiness often associated with mackerel can be overbearing at times, so it's interesting to see what chef's do to moderate the power of the fish. Here, the key was the pineapple. Its sweetness was a critical part of the dish, while I also enjoyed the lush creaminess of the avocado bits. The fried shallots, meanwhile, gave things a nice crunch.

1b: Pan Roasted Diver Scallops | Braised celery, salsify, apple froth
I despise celery, so things were not looking good here. Fortunately, the veggie wasn't as offensive as I'd feared here, adding a pronounced, but not unpleasant backbone to the dish. The scallops themselves were a bit too thin for me (I couldn't really enjoy their texture), but I did appreciate the interplay between the savoriness of the bivalve, the tang of the celery, and the sugariness provided by the apple.

2a: Prawns a la Plancha Espelette | Creamy crab rice, roasted peanuts, preserved lemon, mint
The kitchen was definitely channeling the flavors of Asia here. The prawns had a delectable, almost Thai-style spicy kick to them, and were beautifully complemented by the bits of peanut. The coconut savor of the rice, heightened by hints of mint, definitely moved the dish even more in that direction. Very nice.

2b: Olive Oil Poached Alaskan Halibut | Orange scented beets, horseradish crème fraîche, herbed pepita crust
The halibut was probably my favorite dish of the night. The fish was cooked to a ridiculously tender and juicy consistency, with a delightfully salty, yet delicate sapor. The crux of the dish, though, were the pepitas (pumpkin seeds). They added a perfect smoky nuttiness to the halibut that really took this dish to the next level.

3a: Long Island Duck Breast | Whisky prune smear, butternut squash, porcini quinoa porridge
Taken alone, the duck was very flavorful, and very good. With the prune smear and quinoa, it developed an almost Chinese roast duck-like character that I absolutely loved. Unfortunately, the squash was completely unnecessary, with an overt sweetness that detracted from the bird.

3b: Horseradish Dusted Short Ribs and Hanger Steak | Spring onion confit, smoked potato puree
This was another dish that I'd had at the old Hatfield's. Again, I started with the short rib, delightfully tender, but still with a bit of bite. My dining companion described it as having an almost "hot dog" flavor, while I enjoyed its mild earthy smokiness when paired with the potatoes. The steak had a more forceful flavor, with a tender, yet "toothsome" texture. I did have to be careful with the included onion confit though, which could dominate the beef if taken in large amounts.

4a: Lime Cream "Pie" [$10.00] | Gingersnap crust, oatmeal crumble, citrus chamomile ice cream
The key here for me was the interaction between sweet and sour. The lime cream gave the dessert a tangy base on which the various accoutrements could work; I especially liked the refreshing apple-like flavor of the ice cream. And the gingersnap crust? Crisp, crumbly, fantastic.

4b: Coconut Custard "Macaroon" [$10.00] | Marinated pineapple, vanilla tapioca, passion fruit-elderflower sorbet
Here, we had a core of coconut custard intermixed with vanilla tapioca pearls. The saccharine pineapple and tartish sorbet then added layers of flavor on top. The best part of this dessert, though, was the admixture of disparate textures.

4c: Chocolate "Nutella" [$10.00] | Ganache cake, butterscotch rosemary ice cream, hazelnut toffee
Here we have a fairly classic pairing of chocolate cake with ice cream, with the added wrinkle of rosemary, which gave the dessert a beautiful astringency. At the same time, I loved the crunch added by the hazelnuts, but I wish that their flavor would've been a bit more apparent.

4d: Cinnamon Swirl Brioche Pudding [$10.00] | Pear confit, maple syrup ice cream, cinnamon toast chip
Finally, we have here the kitchen's version of a bread pudding, a marvelous one at that. I adored the soft, yielding texture of the pudding, as well as its creamy-spicy-sweet flavor, tarted up by the application of pear.

Reflecting on my last Hatfield's visit, I expressed concern that Quinn and Karen might not be able to translate the old restaurant's intimacy, honesty, and vision to a larger venue. I'm happy to report that Hatfield's is back with a vengeance. With the addition of new menus, new libations, new dining options, methinks that Hatfield's is well-poised to outdo its former self.

Full review with photos:

Feb 02, 2010
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

Opening Weekend Report from Julian Serrano at Aria CityCenter

After dining at Bar Masa and Sage the previous two nights, it was time to end my tour of Aria's new restaurants with Julian Serrano. Serrano, of course, is best known for revolutionizing high-end dining in Vegas with his restaurant Picasso at Bellagio. Unfortunately, my last visit to Picasso fell short, so I was excited to give Serrano a chance to redeem himself with his new eponymous eatery.

At Picasso, Serrano put forth a menu of French fare, accented with Spanish touches. Here, however, Serrano is able to, for the very first time, explore the essence of his native Spanish cuisine: the food of his childhood. Specifically, Julian Serrano focuses on tapas, mostly traditional, but with a few "molecular" flourishes and a touch of international flair thrown in as well.

Flat Calamari [$14.00] | Lemon E.V.O.O. Sauce, Caramelized Onion
We started with my favorite dish of the meal. At first, the presentation surprised me a bit; I was expecting the calamari to be cut up, but instead, these small spear squid were served nearly whole. They had a wonderful aroma of the sea, and biting in, I loved how the squid's inherent brininess was preserved, while at the same time, the char and the olive oil added a certain depth of flavor.

Traditional Spanish Chicken Croquetas [$8.00] | Chicken, Béchamel
It's hard to go wrong with these tasty chicken and béchamel fritters. I appreciated the crisp golden brown exteriors, yielding to warm, oozing, creamy centers, imbued with the quintessence of chicken. Very nice.

Brava Potatoes [$8.00] | Spicy Tomato, Alioli Sauce
Patatas bravas is a traditional Spanish dish consisting of fried potatoes, topped with tomato sauce, and sometimes alioli (garlic and olive oil). At The Bazaar, I felt that the tomato sauce overpowered the potato, but here, the patatas stood their ground. Nicely fried to a crisp yet creamy consistency, the potatoes formed a base on which the tomato and alioli could really sing.

Wrinkled Potatoes with Mojo Picon Sauce [$8.00] | Spicy Canary Sauce
Next up were papas arrugadas ("wrinkled potatoes"), basically potatoes cooked in salt water and served with their skins intact. The potatoes were delightful on their own, with a gorgeously supple texture, though they could've been a touch saltier. They were served with a mojo picón sauce, which is a spicy condiment originating from the Canary Islands. The interplay between the mild potato and piquant mojo was immensely enjoyable. It would've been nice, however, to have the other famous mojo, the cilantro-based mojo verde, to accompany the papas as well.

White Ceviche [$10.00] | Corvina Fish, Red Onion, Jalepeño Pepper, Cilantro, Lime Juice
Here was a nearly textbook ceviche, which, unlike most of the menu items, is actually not Spanish in origin (being from Peru)--remember, Serrano fully intends to incorporate global influences here. In any case, the fish itself was dense, heavy, with just a touch of ocean. It was deftly countered by the punch of the citrus as well as the bitter, vegetal tang of the onion, leading to an amalgam of light, bright flavors with a great acidity.

Lobster-Pineapple Skewer [$12.00] | Lobster Tail, "Molecular" Pineapple, Sesame Oil
This was one of the "new style" tapas on the menu, and just by looking at the photo, it's not hard to see the influence of José Andrés. The cubes of pineapple made their sugariness very apparent at first, but this then led to the more delicate sweetness of the lobster, while the finish turned distinctly salty. Texturally, it was great compare the almost jelly-like consistency of the "molecular" pineapple with the firm, dense, snappy body of the crustacean.

Creamy Risotto [$10.00] | Wild Mushroom, Manchego, Natural Jus
Though my dining companion thought that the rice was a bit tough, I appreciated its firm, "al dente" texture. Pairing mushroom and cheese in a risotto is nothing new, but nevertheless, I enjoyed the hearty interplay between the luscious, creamy Manchego and earthy mushroom, all over a backdrop of rice.

Tuna Tiradito [$12.00] | Ahi Tuna, Ponzu Sauce, Seaweed, Rocoto Pepper Sauce
Like the ceviche above, tiradito also originates from Peru, and bears a strong semblance to Japanese sashimi. The tuna itself was as it should be: clean, mild, supple. I did feel that the ponzu was a bit too domineering here, drowning out some of the fish's inherent character. However, the sauce was countered nicely by the brine of the seaweed (which also added a great crunch to the dish), as well as the sharp heat from the pepper.

Mediterranean Stew in Deconstruction [$12.00] | Prawns, Bronzinni, Sofrito
What we have here are the individual components of a Mediterranean-style seafood stew. The fish used was bronzinni, better known as branzino, or European seabass. It had a subtly sweet taste along with a supple texture--good, but unexceptional on its own. The prawn was a similar story. The key here, thus, was to eat everything together in one big bite, experiencing the seafood, puréed potato (which I mistook for sorbet!), and sofrito (an olive oil, tomato, onion, and garlic sauce) all at once--now it makes sense!

Arroz con Leche [$8.00] | Merengada Foam, Lemon and Orange Jelly
First up was a sort of rice pudding, tarted up with merengada (meringue) foam and citrus gelée, topped with a sprig of mint. The flavor of the rice was predominant, as expected, but it was aptly set off by the sweetness of the citrus fruit and the slight spiciness from the meringue. It reminded us a bit of horchata!

Torrija [$8.00] | Brioche, Aromatic Cream, Citrus, Caramel Custard
We ended with a torrija, basically a sort of fried cream-soaked bread, typically consumed during Lent. Julian Serrano's version had an eggy sweetness to it, with almost a cheese-like flair. This was accented by the pronounced sugariness of the caramel, and moderated by the tangy citrus.

The meal was a resounding success. Serrano seems to have a good grasp of traditional Spanish tapas, but just as importantly, I really appreciated some of the more global, contemporary touches that he's incorporated into the menu. Though I could identify minor issues with some of the food, I must say that he appears to be doing great, especially considering that the restaurant had only been open for two days. Given more time, as well as more stomach capacity, I'd love to return and give the menu an even more thorough workout.

Full review with photos:

Dec 23, 2009
kevin h in Las Vegas

A First Look at Shawn McClain's Sage at Aria CityCenter

After a somewhat tepid experience the previous night at the brand spanking new Bar Masa, I was looking to Sage to kick things up a notch. A globally-influenced contemporary American concept, Sage is the creation of Shawn McClain, chef and owner of the Chicago eateries Spring, Green Zebra, and Custom House.

Since there is no tasting menu option currently at Sage, so we opted to build our own by sampling half the menu:

Kumamoto Oysters [$19.00] | Piquillo Pepper and Tabasco Sorbet / Aged-Tequila Mignonette
I love to begin with oysters, and just my luck, they happened to have Kumamotos, my favorite, in stock. The light brine of the oysters was apparent on the attack, while the Tabasco added a bit of heat in the middle, with the tequila providing an earthy weight. The best part, though, was the finish, imbued with the vegetal tang of pepper. Excellent.

Black and Blue Tuna [$16.00] | Charred Bluefin Tuna / Black Olive Vinaigrette / Crispy Anchovy / Confit Artichokes
Taken alone, the black pepper- and fennel-crusted tuna was tasty, but unexciting. This was a case where the fish really served as a blank canvas for its accoutrements. First and more important was the quail egg, which contributed an overarching creaminess to the mildly-flavored fish. The olive vinaigrette, meanwhile, added heft, and the artichokes, a distinct tanginess. I really appreciated the anchovy, which accentuated the tuna's natural fishiness.

Smoked Columbia River Sturgeon [$17.00] | Honey Crisp Apple / Smoked Bacon / Fromage Blanc
Here, the interaction between the sturgeon and fromage was instrumental, with the cheese providing a certain richness and weight to the fish that really allowed the other ingredients to sing. I liked the crunch, and more importantly, the salt imparted by the bacon, while the sweet crispness of apple was also very welcomed.

Pacific Yellowtail Crudo [$19.00] | Shaved Trumpet Mushrooms / Black Winter Truffles / Toasted Pine Nuts
Next, we have one of my favorites of the night. The yellowtail itself was expectedly clean and mild in savor--it'd make for a fine sashimi. The truffle added a touch of earthiness into the fray, but the trumpet mushrooms were simply superb, adding a profound, and delicious, gravity to the hamachi. Rounding things out was the pine nut espuma, which contributed a lovely nuttiness to complete the dish.

Wagyu Beef Tartare [$16.00] | Crushed Caper Aioli / Slow-Poached Egg / Pickled Mustards Seeds / Crispy Chocolate
The tartare in and of itself was fairly traditional: tarted up by the capers, with the egg adding a permeating weightiness. Certainly, the arugula and radish salad tossed some levity into the mix, but the best part of this was the chocolate, which contributed a delightful bittersweet element that really did a great job offsetting the tartare. My dining companion, however, felt that the beef could've used more salt.

Foie Gras Custard 'Brûlée' [$25.00] | Moro Blood Orange / Toasted Cocoa Nibs / Salted Brioche
As regular readers will know, I don't like my foie gras too sweet, so I was a bit wary of this dish. Fortunately, my fears turned out to be unfounded. Light and ethereal in body, the custard--with Grand Marnier, brandy, orange, and cocoa--was wonderfully imbued with the delicate quintessence of the liver, with only a touch of "eggy" sweetness. It was like eating a savory crème brûlée. Very good.

Escargot and Pork Belly Agnolotti [$16.00] | Smoked Bacon / Black Garlic / Parsley Sauce / Lemon Oil
Set in a red wine sauce, the agnolotti were tasty enough, but I would've liked a bolder, more aggressive sapor--pork belly should've been more assertive. I felt that the pasta really took a back seat to the rest of the plate, the bacon in particular. At the same time, the snails were a nice touch, and the citrus did an admirable in counterbalancing all the heavy elements at play.

Charred Baby Octopus Caponata [$17.00] | Rosa Bianca Eggplant / Golden Raisins / Rocket Lettuce
The term caponata refers to a Sicilian eggplant salad dressed with a tangy sauce. Sage's version adds some superbly done octopus--beautifully charred, with a wondrous bitterness offsetting the cephalopod's natural sweetness. I really enjoyed eating the supple bits of octopus alone, though the smack of its sweet and sour accompaniments was enjoyable as well. Ironically, the eggplant was the least successful part of the dish for me.

Roasted Sweetbreads [$17.00] | Glazed Bacon / Creamy White Polenta / Chanterelles
Sweetbreads can be hit or miss--this was definitely a hit. I loved how the chanterelles added a another level of earthy richness to the already saporous sweetbreads, while the greens (spinach?) provided a wonderful countervailing bitterness. My favorite part here, though, was the polenta; mild and creamy, it did a great job tempering the other elements at play. The bacon, however, was a bit superfluous.

Grilled Rib-Eye Cap Steak [$21.00] | Roasted Beets / Pistachio Salsa Verde / Sage Honey / 10-year Balsamic
Our last item from the list of starters was this sort of "beef salad." Served cool, the ribeye itself was nicely done, not too heavy, deftly balanced by the tangy salsa and bitter greens. Though I'm not a huge fan of beets, they worked well enough here; I did feel, however, that the honey was a touch strong.

Slow-Poached Organic Farm Egg [$16.00] | Smoked Potato / Shaved Black Winter Truffles / Toasted Country Bread
Here was our sole selection from the "Vegetarian" section of the menu. Pairing egg and truffle isn't novel, but when it works, the results can be profound. Such was the case here. The heady, lingering perfume of the truffle was a flawless complement to the gently creamy egg. Meanwhile, the toast, with its you tiao-esque sweetness, provided a perfect moderating element.

Grilled Pacific Cobia [$34.00] | Butter Clam Chowder / Heirloom Marble Potatoes | Shaved Iberico Ham
For our solitary main course, we chose the cobia, which is not often seen on menus. The fish demonstrated its characteristically firm, strongly savory flesh--it made me think of a more intense version of John Dory. The ham further accentuated the fish's saltiness, while the potatoes acted as a mitigating factor. My favorite accompaniment, though, was the clam chowder, which provided a lovely brininess to go along with the cobia, as well as a chewy textural contrast.

Roasted Winter Pear Tarte Tatin [$10.00] | Red Wine Caramel / Blue Cheese Ice Cream
Our first dessert was like a deconstructed and reimagined iteration of LudoBites' Fourme d’Ambert Tourte! The sweetness of the pear was tempered by its pastry container, while the ice cream really captured the spirit of blue cheese, creating a sharp, countervailing component. Quite nice.

Warm Almond Financier Cake [$10.00] | Moro Blood Orange Marmalade / Licorice-Fennel Ice Cream
A financier is a small, spongy cake, typically flavored with almond, originating in France. Here, the cake's light body and subtle sweetness were heightened by the blood orange (resulting in an almost fruitcake-esque flair), with the almond slivers contributing a marked nuttiness. The ice cream, meanwhile, served as a pungent, spicy contrast.

Canelles de Bordeaux [$10.00] | Winter Spices / Aged-Rum Sabayon / White Chocolate Sorbet
Lastly, we have some canelés, small French pastries originating in Bordeaux. Traditionally flavored with rum and vanilla, they're known for their tough, caramelized crusts and soft, spongy, custard-like interiors. The canelés' heavy, eggy sweetness was further heightened by the sabayon, and went beautifully with the comparatively light sorbet.

Overall, I left Sage very satisfied. Service was pretty much spot-on, and though I could certainly identify nits with what I ate, the food was largely on point, and tasty--pretty impressive for only the second night of service. From what I gathered, McClain's cuisine at Sage effectively balances complexity with approachability and sensibility--my dining companion even made a comparison to Pierre Gagnaire--and I have high hopes for the restaurant in the future.

Full review with photos:

Dec 22, 2009
kevin h in Las Vegas

An Opening Night Report from Bar Masa at Aria CityCenter

Despite having just visited Las Vegas for the debut of Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, I was subsequently lured back by the promise of Masa. For the uninitiated, I'm talking about Masayoshi Takayama, chef/owner of his eponymous eatery in New York, widely regarded as the most expensive restaurant in the United States. Bar Masa at Aria CityCenter is the chef's first expansion outside of Manhattan. For his Chef de Cuisine, Masa tapped New England Culinary Institute alumnus Drew Terp; Terp previously filled a similar role in New York, and has also toque'd at Alain Ducasse, Auberge du Soleil, and was head chef at Port O' Call Restaurant in Bermuda. The lead sushi chef is Takahiro Sakaeda.

The space, not surprisingly, is far larger than what Masa had in New York (by a factor of about three). It's the setting for an ambitious undertaking--of bringing Masa's intimate style to a significantly larger stage. However, if it's intimacy that you seek, you can have that here, too. In addition to Bar Masa, there will also be a smaller dining room within called Shaboo. As the name implies, Shaboo will offer an omakase-only menu (the $500 price tag will surely frighten away the hoi polloi) featuring Masa's famous interpretations of shabu-shabu "hot pot" cookery, among other dishes. We'd originally planned to do Bar Masa and Shaboo back-to-back, but scrapped the plan upon finding out that Shaboo would only be opening toward December's end--perhaps we'll save it for next time.

The menu features Masa's interpretations of Japanese comfort food, as well as some of his more fusion-focused creations. A selection of à la carte sushi and sashimi rounds out the menu. Omakase is not currently, and may never be, an option unfortunately.

Tai Sea-Bream with White Truffle [$48.00]
Our first course comprised five slices of sea bream sashimi, dressed in a tangy sauce, garnished with bitter greens, and topped with white truffle. It was fantastic, with the fish itself crisp, snappy, fresh, wonderfully balanced by its accoutrements. After I inhaled the heady aroma of truffle, the essence of the fungus made itself known in a big way on my palate. This then gave way to the mild, delicate sea bream, while the finish was delightfully tangy. A perfect amalgam of disparate tastes and textures.

Ohmi Beef Tataki with white Truffle [$120.00]
Ohmi is a type of wagyu beef, and expectedly, it was rich, fatty, tender, and unconscionably unctuous. Taken alone, it was quite flavorful, with a nice peppery tang on the midpalate. Eating the Ohmi with the truffle, I first noticed the immense gravity of the meat, which was then followed up by the distinct earthiness of the truffle in a long, lingering close. Very good.

Sushi Canapé [$48.00]
We then moved on to some sushi "canapés," basically a cut cucumber maki roll topped with various accompaniments:
• Kanpachi and Truffle - A strong truffle essence on the attack led to the crisp, fresh, essence of kanpachi. Very nice.
• Scallop and Shrimp - The shrimp and scallop combined to form a creamy, soft, subtly sweet admixture, while the finish possessed a great vegetal tang and crunch. My favorite.
• Salmon and White Onion - Here was a creamy tartare of salmon, with a soft smoky flair, effectively balanced by the pungency of onion.
• Tuna Tartare and Caviar - We finished with a luscious purée of tuna, mild in flavor and deftly accented by the briny tang of caviar. The roe was really the key here.

Seasonal Sushi Tasting [$98.00]
We, of course, had to sample some nigirizushi, and felt that the Seasonal Tasting was the most effective way to do so. Everything was served with two types of hosomaki: a light kappamaki (cucumber roll) and a richer tekkamaki (tuna roll). From back to front, left to right:

• Toro - Fatty Bluefin Tuna from Boston, Massachusetts. For some reason, the tasting comes with two pieces of toro, though I wasn't complaining too much. As expected, it was suitably fatty, oily, breaking apart easily upon mastication. Tasty, though not all that distinctive.
• Kanpachi - Amberjack from Shikoku Island, Japan. Firm, snappy flesh with a mild beginning but a much stronger close. My dining companion described this as "buri-esque."
• Tai - Sea Bream from Kyushu, Japan. We have that characteristic delicate natural of the tai, with a surprisingly robust finish. Nice.
• Kinme Dai - Snapper from Chiba, Japan. Supple and mild, with a wonderful, subtle sweetness.
• Hamachi - Young Yellowtail from Kyushu, Japan. Prototypical moderate hamachi character, with a nice spicy finish. Very good for hamachi (which I'm generally not a huge fan of).
• Hirame - Fluke from Wakayama, Japan. Creamy and mild. A strong example of hirame; note that it's not advertised as "halibut" like usual.
• Saba - Mackerel from Miyagi, Japan. The essential fishiness of mackerel was beautifully countered by the tang of shiso and heat of wasabi.
• Kohada - Herring from Chiba, Japan. Very fishy, with that distinctive, firm kohada consistency.
• Amaebi - Sweet Shrimp from Ishikawa, Japan. Mild and creamy, with a marked wasabi finish. I would've liked a bit more snappiness though.
• Shimaaji - Island Jackfish from Wakayama, Japan. A beautiful cut of fish with its silvery skin, this was quite good, with just enough brininess and a pleasing texture.

Overall, the sushi was of high quality, but unfortunately we didn't get to try it under optimal conditions, as the fish sat for ten minutes and subsequently dried out somewhat. The reason for this wait, depressingly, was that the various fishes served on the platter could not be identified. We asked our server, who was able to recount most, but not all, of the nigiri. He then called in the "experts," basically three older Asian women who were also servers at the restaurant. Unfortunately, they weren't much help, and the four staff members couldn't agree, bickering amongst themselves: "Is this hamachi or kanpachi? Are you sure that's not mackerel? Do we have aoyagi in there?" It was embarrassing, and sad. In the end, we made our own judgments as to what was what.

Calamari with Jalapeño Salt [$18.00]
It's pretty hard to mess up fried calamari, and certainly this tasted as it should, with a crispy outside leading into a nicely chewy interior. The slight heat from the pepper, meanwhile, was a great foil to the mild sweetness of the squid. Tasty and good for snacking.

Uni Risotto with Black Trumpet Mushroom [$48.00]
I had high hopes for this dish, but was let down. The sweet, briny essence of sea urchin was unfortunately muddled and lost here. And while I appreciated the earthiness and weight imparted by the mushrooms, they weren't enough to save the dish. I also felt that the rice was overly soft, and wanted a more "al dente" consistency.

Popcorn Shrimp with Romesco Sauce [$24.00]
You can't really go wrong with popcorn shrimp, and this was no exception. I liked how the shrimp were crisp on the outside, but still had soft, creamy interiors, preserving the essence of the crustaceans. The sweet tanginess provided by the romesco (a pepper-, garlic-, and tomato-based sauce) was nice, but the key was the bitterness imparted by the greens.

Naked Oyster in Citrus Sauce [$26.00]
Next up were some of the largest oysters I've seen in a while--plump with a nice meaty consistency. They were mildly flavored, delicately briny, with their subtle sweetness accented by the tart citrus dressing on the attack, which led to a nicely tangy, slightly bitter finish.

Akamutsu [$10.00]
Fatty Deep-Sea Snapper from Chiba, Japan. Here we have our first à la carte sushi selection, a soft, mildly-flavored, but surprisingly oily fish. My dining companion even compared it to a hybrid of tai and hamachi.

Yari Ika with Salt and Yuzu Zest [$14.00]
Spear Squid from Kyushu, Japan. Gorgeously soft, chewy texture, with a light flavor accented by the tang of sea salt and the zest of yuzu, finished by the heat of wasabi. Very good.

Tako with White Truffle Sauce [$11.00]
Octopus from Chiba, Japan. I quite liked the octopus here--sweet, supple, a canvas on which the earthy truffle could really sing. Lovely.

Grapefruit Granité [$7.00]
Obviously, we still had room for dessert, but unfortunately, only one was on offer. It was basically a grapefruit granita with grapefruit juice, Cointreau, and Grand Marnier: jarringly cold, but immensely fruity and refreshing, imbued with the pure quintessence of grapefruit. Taste-wise, it reminded me of Urasawa's excellent grapefruit gelée. I didn't get much of the alcohol, though.

Food-wise, everything was mostly on point, save for the uni risotto. Despite getting somewhat desiccated amidst the confusion, the sushi was clearly of high quality, and generally quite good. A few items--I'm thinking the sea bream with truffle--were superb. My concern isn't the food though; it's the concept. The original Masa works--it's special--because the restaurant is a reflection of the chef himself. It's intimate, personal; it's supposed to let Masa's personality, his passion, his raison d'être shine through. This simply can't translate to Las Vegas--there's none of that here. Bar Masa in New York manages to straddle a middle ground because of its smaller scale, but what we have here feels like an upscale Nobu.

Full review with photos:

Dec 19, 2009
kevin h in Las Vegas

Best Wine Bar that also serves good food in LA?

AOC comes to mind. And how 'bout Tasca for a more tapas-centric flair?

Nov 25, 2009
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

Bouchon Beverly Hills, Opening Night, 17 Courses

So last night, Bouchon was finally graced upon us. Staying true to my form, I just had to go opening night, sampling all that I could. Bouchon really needs no further introduction, so I'll get right into the vittles:

Huîtres [$18.00] | oysters (1/2 doz)
Bouchon was featuring five different types of East Coast oysters, so we just had to get one of each, served with mignonette and cocktail sauce:
• Beau Soleil - Nicely crisp, with an extremely briny finish that belied their mild attack.
• Bagaduce, Maine - Milder yet sweeter, with more flavor up front, leading to a slightly bitter finish.
• Umami, Rhode Island - One of my favorites, with a great interplay of sweet, salty, and even petrol flavors.
• Island Creek, Massachusetts - Very nice; a meaty, salty oyster with a briny finish that seemed to strengthen after about 10 seconds.
• Fanny Swede, New Brunswick - A very focused, concentrated oyster, quite nice. I'm not so sure about the name of this one, so please let me know if I've got it wrong.

Beignets de Brandade de Morue [$14.50] | cod brandade with tomato confit & fried sage
Quite simply, brandade is a fine purée of salt cold (morue), olive oil, milk, garlic, and potato, a specialty of the Languedoc and Provence regions of France. Here the brandade is turned into fried fritter form, possessing a light, delicate body as well as a profound cod flavor, balanced beautifully by the sweetness of the tomato and pepperiness of the sage. Very, very good.

Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard [$48.50] | served with toasted baguette (5 oz.)
To this very day, the best cold preparation of foie gras I've ever had is still the Moulard Duck "Foie Gras Terrine" that I consumed on my first French Laundry visit. Thus, expectations were expectedly high. I was a bit surprised at the presentation here, with the liver served simply in a canning jar (à la Church & State), accompanied only by toasted bread. Nevertheless, the terrine was pretty stupendous, superbly capturing the quintessence of foie while still remaining refined and approachable. A bit of salt elevated things even further.

Quiche du Jour [$13.50] | selection varies
Quiche is something that I hadn't had in years prior to this meal. It's basically a dish of egg custard and other ingredients, baked in a pastry crust. Though often associated with French fare, it's actually from Germany originally, specifically from the Lothringen region, which is now known as Lorraine. The word "quiche" even comes from the German kuchen, or cake. The quiche of the day was a take on the original Lorraine. This version had a nice rustic flair, with a fitting interplay between the egg and spinach components. The greens, meanwhile, were a great counter to the heaviness of the quiche.

Pate de Campagne [$13.50] | country style pate with watercress, cornichons & radishes
A pâté de campagne translates to "country terrine," and true to its name, is a more rustic preparation than you'd find with many other pâtés. I appreciated its gritty, coarse texture, nicely moist, with identifiable pieces of pork mixed in (though I would prefer even larger chunks). Its flavor was markedly savory, with a substantial liver-y twang to boot. I liked the contrast of the peppery watercress, sour cornichons, and bitter radishes--all were helpful in balancing out the gravity of the pork.

Rillettes aux Deux Saumons [$16.75] | fresh & smoked salmon rillettes with toasted croutons
Traditionally, rillettes is a preparation of pork whereby the meat is cooked in fat and subsequently shredded into a paste. Bouchon, however, substitutes salmon--fresh and smoked--for pork, which is blended, but not cooked, with fat. The result was stupendous: a luxurious pate, imbued with the pure essence of salmon, but simultaneously rich, dense, and fatty. Excellent.

Forest Mushrooms [$13.50] | à la grecque
One of the specials of the night, this was a mix of mushrooms, done à la grecque, or cooked with vinegar, lemon, herbs, and olive oil, served cold. This resulted in a distinct sweet and sour sapor to the dish, which was light and refreshing. However, I would've preferred a more savory, earthier flavor, to be offset by the frisée.

Frisee aux Lardons et Oeuf Poche [$13.50] | frisee salad with lardons, poached egg, bacon vinaigrette & toasted brioche
With lardons, egg, and frisée on hand, it'd be fairly difficult to screw things up. And indeed, the combination of salty lardons, luscious egg, moderating brioche, and light frisée was excellent, an almost faultless commixture of tastes and textures tied together by the overarching creaminess of egg. Superb.

Pan-Seared Alaskan Halibut [$36.50] | sunchokes, fennel, confit of grapefruit, tarragon
Another special was the halibut. Texture-wise, the fish was near-perfect--soft, flaky, superb. By itself, the halibut was supremely mild, delicate even. I enjoyed the contrast provided by the sunchokes and tarragon, but felt that the fruit overwhelmed the fish's natural savor with a pronounced sweetness. The accompaniments needed to be toned down a bit.

Truite aux Amandes [$27.50] | pan-roasted trout with haricots verts, almonds & beurre noisette
The most controversial dish of the night, this was Bouchon's take on Truite aux Amandes, or trout amandine, a very classic dish of trout, with roots in French and Creole cookery. It's typically made by cooking trout filets in butter, and topping the fish with beurre noisette (brown butter), parsley, lemon (making trout Meunière), and almonds (turning it to Amandine). The trout alone was very mild, possibly underseasoned. We thought that it might've been intentional, but when we asked Chef Keller about it, even he admitted that it wasn't, and that the kitchen was still learning. Looking past the fish, I appreciated the vegetal tang of the green beans, and surprisingly, the almonds weren't overpowering at all (I expected them to render the fish overly sweet). This needs to get better.

Thon Confit a la Nicoise [$31.50] | confit of big eye tuna, pole beans, fingerling potatoes, arugula, hard boiled egg & radish
The tuna was easily the most successful fish entrée of the night. I could've easily eaten the tuna by itself--mild at first, but with a delightful salty finish. However, I loved it with the various accoutrements, which recalled a Niçoise salad. The earthiness of the potatoes, the tang of the beans and lettuce, the bitterness of the radish, and the weightiness of the egg--all worked beautifully in concert with the lightly-cooked tuna.

Gigot d'Agneau [$31.50] | roasted leg of lamb with Swiss chard, pommes boulangère & lamb jus
I first tasted the lamb by itself. It was suitably tender, with a surprisingly elegant savor and just a hint of that signature lamb gaminess--quite nice. Given the finespun flavor of the meat, I found its accompaniments heavy-handed, overpowering the lamb if you weren't careful.

Boudin Noir [$26.50] | blood sausage with potato purée & caramelized apples
Ah, the infamous boudin noir, a blood sausage made with pork and its blood. Taken alone, it had a gritty, concentrated taste with just enough of that iron-tinged flavor. It was best when eaten simultaneously with the potato and apple, with the former tempering the power of the sausage, and the latter adding a sweet counterpoint.

Plats des Cotes de Boeuf [$34.50] | red wine braised beef short rib with caramelized Savoy cabbage, glazed sweet carrots, parsnips & jus de Boeuf
And here, our final savory of the night. It's hard to go too wrong with braised beef, and this was no exception. The beef was superbly balanced, both in terms of taste and texture, and I really appreciated the various vegetables used here, which added a rustic, hearty character to the dish, while balancing out the heft of the beef. Very nice.

Profiteroles [$9.50] | vanilla ice cream & chocolate sauce
A profiterole is a puffed pastry, made with pâte à choux , formed into small round spheres, and filled with ice cream. Here, the pastry was a keen tempering element to the ice cream, with the chocolate adding a nice accent to the puffs--a classic, but delicious flavor profile. Yum.

Ile Flottante [$9.00] | meringue with vanilla creme anglaise, almond & caramel
Ile Flottante, also known as floating island or œufs à la neige, is a somewhat fascinating dessert comprised of an "island" of meringue, set in a "sea" of vanilla crème anglaise, and topped here with almond and caramel. Here, the meringue was almost panna cotta-like in consistency, with an equally delicate flavor indubitably enhanced by its various sugary accoutrements.

Valrhona Chocolate Bouchons [$11.00]
How could we not end with Bouchon's eponymous dessert pastry? Think of these as miniature cork-shaped chocolate cakes, dusted with powdered sugar. Paired with the ice cream, they were a simple, but delicious way to end the meal.

We walked out of Bouchon full and sated. In terms of food, though most of it was on point, there were certainly misses here and there. This isn't unexpected, given that it was opening night. I'm willing to give Bouchon a pass, with the explicit expectation that the wrinkles will be ironed out given time. Service, handled mostly by our lovely server Songhi, couldn't really be faulted.

In the end, Bouchon is a welcomed addition to the Canon Drive dining scene, and I'm sure it'll become a go-to place to satisfy your beignets de brandade cravings, once the kinks get worked out, of course. Hopefully, Los Angeles hasn't seen the last of Thomas Keller. I don't think we're quite ready for another French Laundry, but wouldn't Culver City be a great place for another Ad Hoc, or even the long-awaited "burgers and bottles" concept? I think so.

Full review with photos:

Nov 19, 2009
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

The Last Meal Ever Served at Muse at The Montage Beverly Hills

Muse at The Montage Beverly Hills, we hardly knew ye.

Muse didn't even last a year. It was to be the premium dining room at the gleaming new Montage, a step up from the more casual (but still fancy) eatery Parq. The man in charge of both places was Executive Chef John Cuevas, who joined Montage Beverly Hills after a four-year stint as Chef de Cuisine of The Loft at the hotel's Orange County outpost. Before his tenure at The Loft, Cuevas helped open Studio, Montage Laguna Beach's signature restaurant.

Cuevas clearly can cook, and created a menu of modern American fare for Muse, seasonal and simply-prepared, putting new twists on familiar elements. I don't think that the problem was with the food. For starters, Muse had the grave misfortunate of opening on the same day as José Andrés' hotly-anticipated The Bazaar. Guess which one people went to? (hint: the one that rhymes with "au revoir") Furthermore, I don't think that the restaurant's PR people did much to bring customers in, or to convince the Canon Drive dining crowd to eat at a new hotel restaurant. Muse was largely invisible, even in the eyes of the City's food cognoscenti.

Whatever the cause, the end result is that Muse as we know it is no longer. We were told by the staff that Friday the 9th was their last day of service, and thus we were their last table, ever. From now on, the space will be used for large parties, an extension of Parq, so to speak. Muse's menu will disappear, though remnants may show up on the more casual restaurant's carte. The official reason for the closure was that business needs dictated that the space would be better suited for the large number of private events that the hotel hosts, but honestly I suspect that it was because bookings were down.

We each went with the six-course Summer Seasonal Menu at $105, plus $60 for appropriate beverage pairings. Seasonal a la carte selections are also available, and we supplemented our tasting menus with eight additional courses.

Amuse Bouche: Pineapple-Blueberry Soup
For an amuse, a shot glass of pineapple and blueberry soup came topped with a frothy cardamom foam. The aromatic smack of the herb was apparent on the attack, with the sugary fruit coming in later, leading to a long, saccharine finish.

1: House-Made Tagliatelle | maitake and parmesan, burnt butter
The pasta itself was tasty, though a bit plain, quite edible on its own but delicious with the mushrooms, which added just the right amount of weight, just the right amount of earthiness to the dish. The cheese, meanwhile, did provide some tang of its own, but for me, it served as more of a textural element.

Supplement 1: Consommé of Wild Mushrooms [$16.00] | charred pineapple and tarragon
Unfortunately, the mushrooms here weren't nearly as successful. The consommé was light in body, and possessed a flavor rich in umami; we compared its sapor to that of ramen broth! Though four types of mushroom were used--portobello, porcini, chanterelle, lobster mushroom--their flavor seemed muddled and indistinct, leaving me unfulfilled. The pineapple was similarly invisible.

Supplement 2: Poached Organic Ranch Egg [$18.00] | creamed leek and crispy pork belly, parmesan
The ranch egg was a big bounce up from the weak consommé, and ended up as arguably my favorite course of the night. The egg was the star of the show for me, providing an enveloping creaminess that enrobed the rich, salty pork belly in its goodness, while the leek provided a vegetal counterbalance. One of my dining companions described this as "bacon and eggs," commenting on its breakfast-like flair.

2: Salad of Heirloom Tomatoes | baby basil and smoked oil, citrus
I loved the presentation of this dish, set in a canning jar; I don't think I've ever seen anything like it before. Fortunately, the contents of said jar were quite delectable as well. The tomatoes were some of the juiciest I've had, with a pleasing tanginess that went beautifully with the icy chunks of sweet citrus granita as well as the savory olive oil. A clean, refreshing course with light, bright flavors.

Supplement 3: Rice Noodles [$22.00] | spiced kimchi and chorizo, garlic
I'm used to having kimchi cool, so the lukewarm presentation here was an interesting change of pace. The temperature seemed to temper the tang of the fermented cabbage, but the kimchi was still plenty powerful to counter the mild, dense, chewy cylinders of rice noodle Though chorizo is strongly flavored in its own right, here it played second fiddle to the kimchi. Overall, quite good.

Supplement 4: Maine Diver Sea Scallop [$24.00] | roasted corn and braised bacon, popcorn
Next came a duet of perfectly cooked scallops, their subtly sweet/briny flavor accented by a superb sear. The bacon added a touch of salt to things, while the corn formed a surprisingly effective accession to the bivalve's natural sweetness. The popcorn and corn "paper," however, were there mostly for texture. Very nice.

3: Sashimi of Australian Suzuki | kimchi and aged soy, golden apples
Suzuki translates roughly to "sea bass," and is a pretty rare species to be found, even at sushi restaurants. Here it had a firm, supple body and mild sapor that went marvelously with the bit of soy provided. Eaten with the kimchi however, the fish's flavor was dominated, turning the suzuki into more of a textural centerpiece, though this effect was somewhat tempered by the apple.

Supplement 5: Roasted La Belle Farms Foie Gras [$28.00] | creamed onion soup and gruyère, bruschetta
Regular readers will know that I usually take issue with seared foie gras being too sweet. Amazingly, the preparation here was actually too salty, too powerful for my tastes. Pairing it with the bread, thus, was a necessity. The soup, which one of my dining companions compared to "gravy," was similarly savory, and although tasty enough on its own, the pairing with the foie didn't quite click with me.

Supplement 6: Pan-Seared New Zealand John Dory [$38.00] | cured lemon and soft basil, burnt butter
John Dory isn't a fish that I have too often. The example here was lean, flaky, firm yet pliant, with a mouthwatering, if somewhat blunt flavor, and beautifully crisp skin. I appreciated how the tanginess of lemon was used to moderate the fish. The Dory came with a plate of asparagus, which I thought was a bit odd, though I did enjoy the contrast provided by the vegetable's bitter smack.

4: Filet of Creekstone Natural Beef | pickled ramps and smoked mushrooms, red wine
It's been a while since I've had a good filet mignon, so this was a nice change of pace. I was, however, surprised at the large portion (for a tasting menu). Cooked medium, it had a textbook tenderloin texture and a perfect char, not too fatty, but with good flavor. I actually preferred to eat the meat by itself, as I found the sauce a bit distracting.

5: Delice de Pommard | whole grain mustard
A fascinating fromage, the Delice comes from the village of Pommard in Burgundy. It is a soft, triple-crème, goat's milk cheese coated in mustard seed. This gave it a delightfully tangy, spicy flavor that rendered the included mustard redundant.

6: Rice Milk Ice Cream | sour cherry and citrus nougat, pistachio
This was one of the best desserts I've had in recent memory. Think of this as an ice cream cake of sorts, one with gorgeous flavors of rice and vanilla, contrasted perfectly by the tart cherry, and accented beautifully by the nutty pistachio and sour nougat. Excellent.

Supplement 7: Crisp Sourdough Waffle [$15.00] | black cherry and mascarpone, balsamic caramel
Quite simply, this was one of the best waffles I've ever had. Perfectly constructed with a crisp exterior hiding a sweet, soft inside, its berry topping lent a tart flavor to the dessert that was deftly countered by the mascarpone and caramel--a superlative study in contrasting flavors, textures, and temperatures.

Supplement 8: Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream [$15.00] | boysenberry gelee and candied brioche, thyme
When I saw this dessert on the menu, I instantly thought of my favorite cereal, Cinnamon Toast Crunch. And indeed, it did not disappoint. The ice cream really captured the essence of the cereal, and together with the finger of brioche, formed a superb combination of sweet and spicy. Meanwhile, the shawl of gelée draped over the brioche did an admirable job in balancing the cinnamon with its rich, jammy, boysenberry flavors. Quite good.

So with that, we left Muse at The Montage sated and satisfied, happy from the good eats, but a bit saddened knowing that we'll never be able to come back. Muse just never got off to a good start, so in a way, its demise comes as no surprise. After returning home, I sent off a tip to Eater LA about Muse's closure, since it hadn't been reported anywhere else. I got back a thanks from editor Kat Odell, but there was nary a mention on the site--I think that about sums it up.

Full review with photos:

Oct 16, 2009
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

CUT 'Wagyu' Rib Eye

Sure: Bazaar, Sona, Stonehill Tavern, XIV.

I really haven't been that impressed though. I find CUT's Japanese Wagyu more satisfying in fact.

Sep 29, 2009
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

CUT 'Wagyu' Rib Eye

I don't know which grade CUT uses, but I've been served beef advertised as A5 at several restaurants here in the US.

Sep 28, 2009
kevin h in Los Angeles Area

The Tale of an Epic, 6.5-Hour, 22-Course Meal at Providence

The timing between courses was "leisurely" indeed, though they did step things up for dessert (the kitchen wanted to go home too I imagine!).

Sep 01, 2009
kevin h in Los Angeles Area